Sharp Blue: Mixed news


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With cancer, it seems that the news is almost always mixed. There are always signs of hope, portents of future danger. In this month’s meeting with the Dr Newman, my dad’s oncologist, he learned that the thalidomide seems to be working: the cancer hasn’t spread in his left lung or his rib, and the tumour in his right lung is a little bigger than at the last scan but it hasn’t grown as much as would have been expected if the thalidomide was proving ineffectual. This gives me hope that in fact all the tumours in his lungs have stopped growing, because there were several weeks between the previous scan and him starting to on the new treatment. But, as I said, the news is often mixed. This time round, we learned the explanation for the sudden chronic pain in his upper back: there’s a tumour there pressing against a nerve. In this, too, he was luckier than he could have been, for the tumour is very small and only painful because of its location. This means that it was discovered much earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

With every meeting, there are also new treatments. This time around, it’s new, more powerful painkillers and a course of radiotherapy to try to deactivate and destroy the new tumour. I’m confident that this will work, because the radiotherapy that my dad received before Christmas seemed highly effective against the much larger tumour in his lower spine, which is now totally inactive. I’m confident, too, that the thalidomide will hold the cancer at bay, at least until toxicity kicks in (if it does). Which means that we can fight it to a stalemate for as long as a year or two, or, if we’re especially lucky, beat it entirely. After all, a year or two is long enough for new drugs to become available. Indeed, if this had all happened two years ago, thalidomide would still have been in clinical trials and he may not have received that.

Also, it’s now emerged that there’s a third possible treatment that can be used if the thalidomide fails. For the first time, I wasn’t present at this oncology appointment so I don’t know the details, but it’s apparently not had a very high success rate and has unpleasant side-effects. Even so, it’s good to know that if the stalemate turns into a rout on our side, we still have another line to try to hold.

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